Here at Oscar Frenzy, we pride ourselves in helping you win your Oscar pool. We have the track record to prove it. Three years ago, when “Return of the King” swept the awards, one of our handicappers was a perfect 19 for 19, excluding the documentary and short film categories. This month, we’ll give you in-depth previews of all the closely contested categories, from sound editing to makeup to the biggest one of all, Best Picture. Oscar Frenzy’s predictions are based on detailed analysis of past awards, insider buzz, and general consensus evaluation. We’ll post our final predictions on February 24th, with preliminary predictions to be made available several days prior.

Since the Best Picture race is the most wide open in years, we’re approaching it a little differently this season. Each week, we’ll narrow the field of five by one, until we are left with only the eventual winner. We’re monitoring all the campaigns and pulling out all the stops to measure the pulse of the Academy. Let’s get started.

The five nominated films for Best Motion Picture are:

“The Departed”
“Letters From Iwo Jima”
“Little Miss Sunshine”
“The Queen”

As it stands now, “Little Miss Sunshine” has ascended to frontrunner status. Thanks to its wins at both the Producer’s Guild and Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, it has clearly established itself as a film to be taken seriously. The big question now is how will it handle being the frontrunner? “Sunshine” has always been regarded as an underdog story, and being the favorite may somehow diminish its appeal. We’re keeping a close watch on any potential shifts in popular opinion.

“The Departed” and “Babel” have got to be considered strong contenders. Both snagged editing nominations, which is critical. Historically, it is almost unheard of for a film to win Best Picture without being nominated for editing. “The Departed” is the critics’ darling and “Babel” won the coveted Golden Globe for Best Picture Drama. “Babel” is a message movie, weaving together a collection of stories that examine human connection across continents. “The Departed” features an A-list cast, and may receive an added boost if Martin Scorsese wins the Director’s Guild Award, as expected, this weekend. Both films are in prime position to capitalize if “Little Miss Sunshine” should slip.

“Letters From Iwo Jima” is the wildcard. On the surface, it doesn’t seem to stand much of a chance, since it got shut out by the Guilds and only recently opened nationwide. But if voters feel a general lack of passion for their other choices, “Letters” may come along at just the right time. The Academy obviously has great affection for Clint Eastwood and by all critical accounts, “Letters” is a superb and extremely moving film. The strength of its campaign may ultimately determine whether not it has a chance to be the first foreign language film to ever win Best Picture.

Which leaves only “The Queen.” There is no doubt “The Queen” is a very good film, intelligently made, and original. It also features some amazing performances, most notably Helen Mirren, who is a lock to win Best Actress this year. Unfortunately, that may very well be its undoing. Voters will likely identify the film with Mirren’s outstanding performance and think that her award sufficiently represents the film. Also, though “The Queen” has been a staple of critics’ top ten lists and other award show’s nominees, it has yet to win a significant precursor award. The momentum just doesn’t seem to be there and three weeks is too late to generate it.
Therefore, “The Queen” is the first Best Picture nominee to be cut from contention.

Category previews are forthcoming in days. Stay tuned.